LAHINCH, IRELAND (AFP, REUTERS) - Ireland was being hit by an “unprecedented storm” on Monday (Oct 16) that killed at least two people and left 100,000 homes and businesses without power, and every school in the country shut, as authorities warned that lives could be in danger.
Ophelia, the largest hurricane ever recorded so far east in the Atlantic Ocean and the furthest north since 1939, was downgraded to a storm before it hit the Irish coast but nonetheless posed enough of a threat for the Met Eireann national weather service to issue a red alert.
“Ex-hurricane Ophelia is forecast to track directly over Ireland,” the service said. “Violent and destructive gusts are forecast with all areas at risk.” It warned that “heavy rain and storm surges along some coasts will result in flooding. There is a danger to life and property”.
Wind speeds hit 176 kilometres per hour at Fastnet Rock, Ireland’s most southerly point, while the fastest speeds recorded onshore were 156 kph at the entrance to Cork Harbour in the southwest.
A woman in her 50s was killed by a tree falling on her car in the southeastern county of Waterford, police said. A man in his 30s died while trying to clear a fallen tree in an incident involving a chainsaw.
Dublin Airport scrapped around 130 flights; Cork Airport cancelled most flights in what it said was the worst storm seen in its 56-year history, while several services to and from Shannon, the third-biggest airport, were also grounded.
Speed restrictions were placed on trains, and some lines in the south were cancelled.
PM says stay indoors
"Stay indoors wherever you are until the storm has passed. Check on your neighbours and elderly relatives,” Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters. “It is coming your way and this is a national red alert.
“Even after the storm has passed there will still be dangers. There will be trees on the ground and power lines down.”
The education ministry said “all schools, colleges and other education institutions” were closed on Monday, after official advice on the “unprecedented storm”. Government offices were also closed across the country.
The military has been deployed to areas forecast to be worst affected and are on standby. The eye of the storm is forecast to track across Northern Ireland and then Scotland.
Britain's meteorological service put an Amber Weather Warning into effect for Northern Ireland from 1400-2100 GMT, saying the storm posed a danger to life and was likely to cause transport cancellations, power cuts and flying debris.
"Impactful weather" is expected in other western and northern parts of the United Kingdom, it said.
British media are comparing Ophelia to the "Great Storm" of 1987, which subjected parts of the United Kingdom to hurricane strength winds 30 years ago to the day.
The centre of the storm was expected to move across Ireland during the day before moving towards western Scotland overnight.
The Irish government said the storm is likely to be the worst since Hurricane Debbie, which killed 11 in Ireland in 1961.
The storm is likely to pass close to a west of Ireland golf course owned by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been planning a wall to protect its greens from coastal erosion.
Similar sized storms in the past have changed the shape of stretches of the Irish coastline, climatologists said.